The Fall: Norma at the Teatro Municipale Piacenza

Bellini – Norma

Pollione – Stefano La Colla
Oroveso – Michele Pertusi
Norma – Angela Meade
Adalgisa – Paola Gardina
Clotilde – Stefania Ferrari
Flavio – Didier Peri

Coro del Teatro Municipale di Piacenza, Orchestra Filarmonica Italiana / Sesto Quatrini.
Stage director – Nicola Berloffa.

Teatro Municipale di Piacenza, Piacenza, Italy.  Sunday, October 24th, 2021.

Today marked my first ever visit to the Teatro Municipale in Piacenza – and what a handsome venue it is.  Opened in 1804, it seats just under 1200.  The house is exceptionally beautiful, and from my seat towards the front, sounds quite wonderful too.  The welcome is warm and cordial and it’s indeed a most agreeable place to see a show.  Of course, the house closely followed the current sanitary regulations in place in the Italian Republic.  Temperatures were taken before entry, vaccination certificates were checked alongside tickets, and masks were required throughout.  All of this gave a sense of security that made the experience even more pleasant.

Photo: © Cravedi | Verile

The staging was the work of Nicola Berloffa.  A co-production with the theatres of Parma and Modena, he sets the action in the nineteenth century.  The Gauls appear to be inhabitants of a military hospital, a number of whom walk around in crutches.  Norma appears to be their leader, responsible for encouraging her people and protected by a trio of ladies.  In a note in the program book, Berloffa posits that the way that Norma falls from grace in the eyes of her people, and the subsequent turning of the mob against her, represents a very modern and contemporary situation.  It makes for an interesting starting point for a staging.  Certainly, the updating looks good and allows the narrative to flow in an unobtrusive way – if perhaps not abounding in new insights.  There was a fair bit of standing and delivering, but at least characters did address each other when singing to each other.  The chorus was used relatively statically, although carrying crutches it’s probably hard to engage in any more active movement. 

Photo: © Cravedi | Verile

Angela Meade is an experienced Norma, having sung the role in New York, Los Angeles, Madrid and Naples.  The voice is a good size, although it isn’t the most refulgent of timbres.  She had clearly worked hard on the text to make the words clear, even though her Italian is somewhat anglophone in flavour.  She sang her ‘casta diva’ with rapt introspection and grew in stature as the evening progressed.  There are elements of a good technique there.  Her ability to traverse the passaggio is impressive, and she is able to float some impressive pianissimi at the top of the voice.  The voice itself is grounded in a big, juicy chestiness, but it does tend to thin out higher up.  The more florid writing also has a tendency to be a bit bumpy.  Her Norma is a creditable stab at the role.  She’s clearly spent a considerable amount of time studying it, but I left with the impression of someone who didn’t quite communicate the full range of emotions of the part, her singing and stage presence feeling rather anonymous.  There is much good there, however.

Photo: © Cravedi | Verile

Stefano La Colla sang Pollione with a good-sized tenor that carried well into the house.  Naturally, his diction was impeccable, and he brought out much in the text.  He wasn’t just about producing volume, however.  His ‘vieni in Roma’ was sung with honeyed, seductive warmth.  While the firmness of his vocalism was impressive, he did have a tendency to swoop up to the higher notes in a manner that started to distract from the excellence of his vocalism.  I longed for him to simply attack a note straight on.  That said, his Pollione was certainly impressively sung.  Adalgisa was sung by Paola Gardina, a new name to me, but a singer who has had a number high profile engagements.  The owner of a bright, sunny mezzo, she sang with an implicit understanding of line that gave much pleasure.  She sang her opening number with a warm legato and elegant phrasing.  Adalgisa is a role that lies high for many mezzos.  Gardina was unafraid to give us a full and bright high C and she integrated her physical approach to her technique into her acting.  That said, as the evening progressed, pitch did start to have a tendency to sag.  Gardina is an interesting singer, and I would be pleased to reencounter her. 

Michele Pertusi offered a tower of strength as Oroveso.  The voice has lost a little of its lustre over the years, the tone now a little greyer than before.  That said, Pertusi is still a most imposing stage presence.  The house chorus was enthusiastic, singing with wonderfully uninhibited abandon and decent ensemble.  The tenors shone nicely out of the texture in there ‘Norma vieni’. 

Photo: © Cravedi | Verile

The revelation of this performance was Sesto Quatrini’s conducting.  I was unfamiliar with him prior to today, but he gave notice of a very fine bel canto sensibility.  Tempi were wonderfully swift, springy and founded on a strong rhythmic framework.  He had clearly imparted a beauty of line to the orchestra, who played with loving care.  The stage band also demonstrated some impressive precision at some very swift tempi.  Occasionally some of the string intonation was a bit raw, however this was passing.  Quatrini is undoubtedly a name to watch in this repertoire.

Photo: © Cravedi | Verile

This was a fitting introduction to this beautiful theatre.  The staging allowed the narrative to flow with logical ease, and the quality of the solo singing was indeed respectable.  We were also introduced to a very exciting conductor.  The evening was awarded with an extremely generous ovation by the Piacenza public, particularly for Meade.

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